Caldwell Scholars: Exceptional Students Supported by Retired Faculty

Group photo of retired faculty and Caldwell Scholars
Retired faculty Karen Koblitz and Victor Webb with past and present Caldwell Scholars

By Michael Price

A special group of intergenerational Trojans gathered at a luncheon in September, where retired faculty who continue to serve USC students came together with current undergraduates to continue a unique tradition of support.

Caldwell Scholars are exceptional first-generation students who come to USC from neighborhood high schools. They are primarily supported by USC’s Retired Faculty Association (RFA) – but groups across USC are invested in their success. Also attending the luncheon were members of the RFA Board, the Director of the Emeriti Center, and faculty, staff, and administration from Financial Aid, the Office of Inclusion & Diversity, the Black and Latino Alumni Association and Civic Engagement.

At the luncheon, the group was introduced to the newest Caldwell Scholars, John Recendez and Natalia Carrillo. They also reunited with current scholars and heard from one graduate who returned to thank the RFA for their support.

Only two new scholarships are awarded each year; each is renewable for an additional three years pending academic progress. The RFA administers it in partnership with the USC Financial Aid Office. In sum, the Caldwell Scholars program awards $3,000 each year to eight scholars.

Karen Koblitz, associate professor emeritus of the USC Roski School of Art and Design and Chair of the Caldwell Scholarship, hoped the gathering would be a community-building moment as well as a time for the Scholars to learn about options at USC: “We hope the scholars speak among themselves as we always want them to have a sense of community. We also want them to have the opportunity to meet members of the RFA, administrators, others that support them and can help them navigate their four years at USC.”

Legacy of kindness

For almost 60 years, the Caldwell Scholarship has served high-achieving local students as the first faculty-initiated community scholarship. Funded by faculty and staff retirees with the support of the USC Office of Financial Aid, the group has supported over 450 students.

It began in December 1965, shortly after the Watts Rebellion. The late Prof. Russell Caldwell, then president of the USC Faculty Association, asked his colleagues to support a new commitment to strengthen bonds between USC and the neighborhood. Faculty were challenged to choose small payroll deductions to fund scholarships. That work has grown into the scholarship that currently honors him with its name. Criteria for selection include leadership, initiative, academic achievement, and community service.

New scholars

John Recendez came to USC from Dorsey High, where he earned an Honor Roll Award for maintaining a 4.0 for three years. He is a marathon runner, an award-winning writer, a theater volunteer, a youth mentor, an intern at the Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program, and more.

John intends to be a business administration major, with an emphasis in marketing, so he can achieve his career goal of working in marketing analytics or as a marketing manager overseas. He expressed gratitude for the Caldwell Scholarship, “Not only with the obvious financial contribution, but it’s a huge network of alumni. …  And that’s the thing I’m most looking forward to, being able to network and work with those students and faculty.”

As it does with every first-year student, the work of university life has presented challenges for him that he is eager to take on: “The biggest thing that I’ve had to adjust to is the class times, having big gaps in my schedule and deciding what to do with those gaps in my schedule. In high school, it’s a lot more loose – you do your work when you feel like it or when you have time – but over here you need to cut out sections of your day in order to dedicate to certain things and I think that’s been the hardest part.”

Natalia Carrillo came to USC from Foshay Learning Center, where she was recognized with the Superintendent’s High Honor Roll. Having come to the U.S. from El Salvador, she recently marked seven years in the United States. At Foshay, she was active in the music department and tutored recent student immigrants in English, creating her own Zoom tutoring program to expand her impact.

Passionate about international affairs and deeply invested in the power of education, her goal is to give back: “I hope I can one day either work for the United Nations or get my PhD, if possible, and go back to Latin America and just try to build a better place for children there. My focus is building schools in Latin America.”

Her first-year experience has been exciting, and she is grateful for the fact that the Caldwell Scholarship is what allowed her to enroll at USC: “I was waiting for this moment. … I’m studying what I wanted to … I’m very interested and excited to get into it more. The experience here has been amazing. I’ve met a lot of people and I feel like I can finally be me.”

To learn more about the USC Retired Faculty Association’s Caldwell Neighborhood Scholarship Program, visit: